of WI cricket
really depressing thing about West Indies cricket these
days is the state of nothingness into which it has fallen.
It is neither here nor there; not coming, not going; not
promising anything; not failing to achieve any expectations;
the players not underachieving; the team (and it is questionable
if there exists a fixed group of players we could refer
to as the team) simply existing in a state of
Once we could be critical of the leadership of Brian Lara.
We could complain that the young players are not focused,
that the learning curve of the young bowlers is far too
long, and that the great tradition of West Indian outfielding
and catching are but memories of the past.
There was even room for criticism of the coaching staff,
the West Indies Cricket Boards fixation with foreign
no-name, no-reputation coaches. Indeed, in times recently
past, criticism of the WICB could have been felt to be constructive
and ultimately productive, the hope being that transformation
could have been achieved because of the constructive criticism.
Now the sad reality, for those of us who would face it squarely,
is that all of that seems no longer a legitimate route of
criticism as a means of advance, hence that word I struggled
with: nothingness, meaning a void is at the
centre of West Indian cricket.
Time was when we were expecting one international tour in
a season, far less the two to come, Sri Lanka and Australia;
the environment would have been alive with expectation and
possibility. Then the self-belief was so strong, we fully
believed we would teach our visitors a thing or two about
creative stroke-making by our batsmen, and unrelenting,
unremitting fast bowling.
My mind lingered long on this great element of our cricketing
tradition with the recent sad news of the death of Australian
boy-wonder Norm ONeil. For a couple seasons in the
late 1950s and 1960s, the New South Wales right-hander was
spoken about in the same breath as the immortal Don Bradman.
The year was 1965, we were on top of the world having crushed
England and were ready to take revenge on the great Australians,
after their umpires had saved them on the greatest of cricket
tours Down Under.
Australian jokers send down crash helmet to protect their
batsmen from Hall and Charlie Griffith
the Mighty Sparrow recalled the 1965 Australians.
He had a particular line about ONeil, which does not
come to mind readily, but it was to the effect that the
Australian had a lot of mouth before the tour and after
he was humiliated; but when he was facing those two titans
of West Indian fast bowling, he was quiet like a mouse,
only to scandalise Griffiths name having carved out
a clear line to the squareleg umpire when up against Big
Incidentally, we have not as a people sufficiently cleared
Griffiths name and reputation from the mouths of those
who maligned him. In modern times, Charlie would have been
given every opportunity to bowl before machines and experts
and given a rehabilitation period, that is assuming the
arm was at an unacceptable level; then he was demonised
like a Dracula.
Nevertheless, I remember well the build-up to the 1965 Australian
tour of the Caribbean. My cricketing brothers and myself,
but teenagers in the period, talked about nothing else but
seeing the likes of Sobers, Kanhai, Hall, Griffith, Gibbs
and others against Simpson, Lawry, McKenzie and the other
great Australian players of the day.
Sir Frank Worrell had retired from the game and handed over
to Sobers. We did not know then that the silkiest of the
3Ws would soon leave us, many of us completely bewildered
that this greatest of West Indian cricketers, who had so
much more to contribute to the development of the game and
the personality of our cricket, could have left so soon.
Yes it mattered that we convincingly trounced the Australians:
Australia yuh loss, the West Indies is boss
luck next time was how Sparrow summed up the series.
We were not only confident and triumphant, but sufficiently
secure in ourselves to be magnanimous about the future.
We were assured that the West Indian ethos existed and there
would be times when we would lose, but on the morrow we
were sure to have a team, a spirit and a culture of greatness
to be able to rebound from any minor misalignment of the
Its the point I make in this column: nothing now exists.
Picture how bad the situation is: we beat a major team in
a Test match abroad, South Africa, for the first time in
lord knows how long and that has failed to spark a hope
of redemption and transformation.
It is not that it was a fluke, it was done convincingly
and with a measure of style, but we were inevitably rolled
over with the greatest of ease. By the end of the series
we looked a ragged third league bunch of players without
For near on ten years this column has been suggesting a
transformational approach. Frankly I doubt if any of it
can now work, or indeed is relevant to the immediate.
Recently, the Stanford Twenty/20 circus hit town, players
making large sums, the fast-foods cricket debilitating to
the system, with money spread-abroad in the region like
the sea water lashing the 365 beaches of Antigua. Still
And this game, designed to bring some measure of merriment
to industrial societies of the 21st centuries, to ease stress
and to modernise the image and substance of cricket, will
impact most negatively on the West Indies and for a variety
of reasons, the major one being that there exists nothing
behind the facade.
The question surrounding the visits by Sri Lanka and Australia
is not whether we will do well, but whether there can emerge
something upon which we can hang a transformational ethic.
Something that can emerge out of what Naipual has called
An Area of Darkness to feed the soul of this civilisation.
And yes, it is far more than that were not playing
good cricket at the moment. It is that our society in the
Caribbean does not at the moment have a grounding pole,
something that could give direction and hope for the future.
I wrote most of this on a flight between New York and Miami.
Going through the airport at the southern city, I saw Lance
Gibbs, golden and wonderful. I could not stop myself from
staring at him. He looked back puzzled but with a smile